Beauty dos and don’ts of Central Asia

28 Sep


Dress material shopping in Turkmenistan

Part of having fun traveling as a woman, is seeing how women in other cultures dress, beautify themselves, the rituals they follow and what they consider attractive. With that in mind, here are some insights on beauty do’s and don’ts in Central Asia.

  • Don’t think you need to cover up. There is certainly no need to cover yourself with a burka – and in fact very few situations where you need a headscarf. As with most aspects of Islam, Central Asia has a pretty lax approach to guidelines about women’s dressing.
  • Don’t wear always wear ‘safe’ traveling clothes (e.g. blue tshirts and khaki trousers). You’ll be surrounded by women wearing the most amazing spangly, sparkly, colourful outfits in fabulous materials. Do experiment with different combinations of colours, layers and accessories you might not try elsewhere. Unlike other places where it’s best to play safe (Iran, etc), you can definitely get away with lots of different colours. You’ll fit in more comfortably with a long dress/skirt – and they’re cheap.
  • Do try out different materials as well as styles. Don’t wear velvet in 50 degree heat, but try it as soon as it starts getting cooler – its surprisingly not overly warm during the day and is great in the evening. Do try out local dresses in Turkmenistan – they are incredibly flattering and super stylish, with shoulderpads. Avoid wedding outfits, which though gorgeous, are super hot and heavy – but do look out for cheap wedding jewelery that you can take home.
  • Do try out lots of different beauty treatments – massages can be incredibly cheap (around $10), though of different quality. You will find these at the many soviet health/summer resorts, that are seeing a resurgence of late. You may find some Chinese masseurs who do cupping massages, or Russian masseurs who do sports massages, so ask around for different types.
  • Do try out a hammam, but don’t expect the full-on middle eastern experience. Tourist women can often go to the male baths (tends to be of a better standard than the female’s) – but you will get a male masseur. Expect to pay for the hot shower as well.
  • Don’t fully embrace unknown beauty treatments without finding out a bit more about them. Cultural differences on what is considered beautiful can be quite different. Personal note to self – when getting eyebrows threaded, don’t agree to the whole beauty shebang in a place where all women aspire to have thick, fully joined-up eyebrows. You may find yourself after an intense henna treatment, looking like the love-child of King Kong and Frida Kahlo.


Ooopsie, my beauty treatment gone slightly wrong

One Response to “Beauty dos and don’ts of Central Asia”

  1. Sophie September 28, 2010 at 10:44 pm #

    Hi Cat, your blog is so funny, I’ve been following it avidly. I sympathise re: beauty treatments, having once made the mistake of getting a haircut in Iran.

    Don’t worry about getting stuck over there, it could be the best thing that ever happened because it will make a brilliant travelogue and could be / should be the making of you as a bestselling (script?)writer!!!!!

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